To help prevent and deal with bullying, camps need to create positive and caring environments for girls and boys alike. This environments needs to centre on respect, communication, mentorship and clear guidelines for behaviour. These overriding principles are key but need to be balanced with a clear understanding of the different realities of girls' and boys' lives.
Girls and boys bully in unique ways. Tanya Beran from the University of Calgary has unique research into the differences. "As a general group, boys spend more time with boys in physical activities such as sports and games; girls tend to spend more of their time socializing with other girls in more friendship-based activities (e.g., talking with other girls). So it is no surprise that boys and girls tend to bully and be bullied differently."
Girls will say and do things that make others feel alienated and alone. Being singled out in a cabin group, ridiculed by peers, excluded from social activities, or alienated from the group are all forms of bullying and very hurtful for the victim. Being beaten up emotionally on a daily basis does long term damage to a person.
An all girls experience allows the camp the opportunity to provide intervention and a proactive learning focus with a gender difference approach. The all female environment gives girls a unique opportunity to make strong connections with other girls at camp and to identify with female staff leaders. An all girls camp allows girls to feel more comfortable and more willing to take risks and thus gain confidence in themselves. The resulting enhancement of self- esteem is highly connected to positive relationships in which bullying is not acceptable. Self confident girls proactively deal with situations that are not comfortable or acceptable. Fostering sensitivity to the feelings of others can go a long way to stop bullying and aggressive behavior before it starts.
Most girls camps offer programs which proactively deal with the unique behaviours exhibited by girls. For example, the Girls Circle program at Camp Tanamakoon has been successfully running for many years now. Girls participate weekly in a variety of themed discussions and activities that are facilitated by camp leaders. These programs identify and target behaviours such as female bullying and self-esteem and actively help girls grow through experiences and activities.
The gender of the staff dealing with programs of this nature is key to its success. Girls will relate best to strong and assertive female leaders who have had similar experiences while growing up. As Chris Thurber, author of the Summer Camp Handbook writes: “At a single-sex camp, girls can not only be themselves, they can be their whole selves and reenter the coed world with renewed confidence and empathy.”